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Find harmony between agriculture, conservation

Layne Kennedy/Getty Images Foxtail grasses in prairie pothole region
IN SYNCH: Farming the land and protecting wetlands can often be at odds. However, a new program in the Upper Midwest Prairie Pothole region looks to bring the two into accord.
How a program to pay farmers for wetland preservation got its start.

Wetland conservation has been a contentious issue for many years in North Dakota.

So, in 2013, the North Dakota Ag Conservation Roundtable started meeting. Members included representatives from Delta Waterfowl, North Dakota Farmers Union, North Dakota Farm Bureau, North Dakota Department of Agriculture, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and North Dakota Grain Growers representatives and several farmers and ranchers not affiliated with any organization.

“It started out informally,” says John Devney, Delta Waterfowl senior vice president, Bismarck.

He co-chaired the Roundtable with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

“We wanted to talk about the kind of conservation projects that we could all support,” he says.

The result came to fruition this year as the Prairie Pothole Water Quality and Wildlife Program.

Program history

Once the Roundtable members came up with the idea of the program, several other agencies and organizations guided its biological and technical design. They included Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota Game and Fish, North Dakota Natural Resource Trust and North Dakota NRCS.

Delta Waterfowl started a pilot project in 2015 funded by the North Dakota Heritage Fund. During the pilot, Delta Waterfowl signed 124 agreements with North Dakota farmers. It conserved 9,500 wetlands covering 4,800 acres.

Participants offered feedback on the program. The Roundtable then developed a plan to get the authorizing language into the 2018 Farm Bill.

“This language specifically for prairie pothole wetlands allows us to utilize a prevent-rather-than-fix model of conservation,” says Mary Podoll, North Dakota NRCS state conservationist. “It also ensures that the dialogue to focus on the value of wetlands is a friendly process.”

Upper Midwest expansion

The Prairie Pothole Water Quality and Wildlife Program rolled out in 2020 as a locally led effort as part of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. Podoll dedicated $950,000 to the program, which was matched by former NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr and Associate Chief Kevin Norton.

In North Dakota, 103 applications for 3,646 acres were approved. North Dakota NRCS was able to supplement an additional $360,589 to bring the state’s total for the program to over $2.26 million.

Iowa accepted 39 applications covering 556 acres. The total obligation was more than $1 million.

Minnesota allocated $15,0000 for nine contracts covering 20 acres in Minnesota. South Dakota NRCS obligated $2,595 on 2.3 acres. NRCS expects to launch the program in 2021 in Montana.

For more information about the program and to apply, see your local NRCS office.

Source: The North Dakota NRCS is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
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